Politics

Alaska Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan split as Senate votes to block rail strike

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski joined the majority in voting to pass a bill blocking a freight rail strike on Thursday, while Sen. Dan Sullivan voted against the legislation. The bill now heads to the president’s desk.

[UPDATE: Rail strike averted as Biden signs bill enforcing agreement]

Both Republicans said they weighed the significant economic losses a strike could cause with concerns about Congress’ intervention on the issue.

The Senate’s vote attempts to avert a rail strike that was set to begin Dec. 9 by imposing a compromise agreement between operators and eight of 12 rail unions. The deal, which the Biden administration helped negotiate, includes a pay increase and health care benefits. However, the four unions representing the most workers rejected the agreement, seeking concessions like paid sick leave.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden urged Congress to implement the deal using the Railway Labor Act of 1926. The House voted to avert the strike 290 to 137 Wednesday, with Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat, voicing concerns about the lack of paid sick leave and voting no.

The Senate voted to impose the deal 80 to 15 today, with one senator voting “present.”

[Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings]

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Ahead of the vote, Sullivan pushed for an amendment to institute a 60-day cooling off period that would delay a strike. His amendment failed 25 to 70.

He also voted against blocking the strike and against an amendment proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., granting seven days paid sick leave.

During a floor speech ahead of the vote, Sullivan expressed concern about the economic implications of a rail strike, estimated to result in about $2 billion in economic losses per day. He also conveyed frustration about the lack of time Congress had to consider the bill and the precedent that Congress intervening in the contract negotiation could set.

Sullivan said delaying the strike would “give negotiators more time to get to an agreement and it will not make Congress the entity of last resort in these kind of negotiations, where the knowledge of the issues that are very complicated have not been thoroughly studied and have not received the due diligence that I believe every American, every union member, wants us to have.”

Murkowski voted to avert the strike, saying that she wanted to avoid disruptions to service for goods that come to Alaska from the Lower 48. A strike is not expected to affect rail operations within Alaska.

After the vote, she said it was “important that we that we really made sure that there was not a work stoppage — that was key.”

Murkowski voted against Sullivan’s amendment to add a cooling off period, and also against Sanders’ amendment adding paid sick leave provisions.

She said her vote against granting paid sick leave was “very hard” and that she is “sympathetic to the concerns of workers.”

“I was really torn on the Sanders amendment because I do feel that the workers need to be heard when it when it comes to to these aspects of their benefits,” Murkowski said. “But I really felt that it was not Congress’ role for us to to make that determination.”

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Riley Rogerson

Riley Rogerson is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C., and is a fellow with Report for America. Contact her at rrogerson@adn.com.

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